Each year more and more R-rated horror classics are being remade into PG-13 tweener fare, and die-hard horror fans are understandably miffed. Hollywood studios eagerly gut the original films of all provocative content with the sole purpose of selling more tickets to the little ‘uns. The vast majority of the time a hardcore R-rated classic is neutered of all sex and violence until it’s whittled down to a bland, PG-13 nub. But the opposite is true of The Stepfather, a slow, dark, R-rated drama from 1987 that has been repurposed into a fast, loose, infinitely creepy PG-13 remake.
From the opening moments, in which Dylan Walsh (Nip/Tuck) calmly packs his bags, changes his physical appearance, and leaves a home full of recently-slaughtered family members, it’s established that the stepfather is not a good guy. Like Terry O’Quinn (Locke from Lost) in the original film, he’s a man looking for the perfect family. And if he can’t find perfection…he simply kills his family and moves on to a new one.
He hooks up with single mom Sela Ward and moves in with her and her two young children. Six months later, superhot beefcake Penn Badgley (Gossip Girl) returns from military school, and tensions begin to escalate as he questions his new stepfather’s authority (although the title “The Stepfather “ becomes sort of silly when you leave the movie realizing that Dylan Walsh and Sela Ward never end up getting married). As Penn Badgley grows increasingly suspicious of his new father figure, Dylan Walsh is forced to go to greater lengths to cover up his acts of violence.
Speaking of Walsh, he carries the film entirely on his shoulders without even breaking a damn sweat. His portrayal of the stepfather is layered with a quiet menace that owns every single scene. O’Quinn’s stepfather is a complete pussy in comparison. Although the 1987 version was rated R, it only featured two onscreen deaths. The R-rating was primarily due to a brief sidelong view of O’Quinn’s naked wiener and a weirdly incongruous nude shot of 16-year-old daughter Jill Schoelen taking a shower. The PG-13 remake features a higher body count, more tension, and a powerful central performance from Walsh. It’s (dare I say it?) better than the original.
Coming across like a movie you’d kill for on a rainy afternoon—something along the lines of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle or Disturbia—this remake from director Nelson McCormack is entertaining, but still imperfect. Penn Badgley’s supremely irritating girlfriend (Amber Heard, Zombieland) elicited genuine murmurs of disgust from members of the audience at the screening I attended. I guess it’s worth noting that she spends about 80% of her screen time clad in a string bikini. Still, she was a goddamn nag.
I’m as unhappy about the rash of PG-13 remakes as anyone out there, but somehow (and I’m as incredulous as anybody), The Stepfather doesn’t qualify as one of the failures. It’s a solid film with crackerjack casting, something suddenly intense you might catch on cable and can’t stop watching.